Thursday, 20 January 2011

Prodigal **1/2

Music by Matthew Frank, book and lyrics by Dean Bryant, Midsumma Festival
fortyfivedownstairs, until Jan 28, 2011
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: **1/2

Recently, the number of original Australian musicals increased significantly. Prodigal was developed in 1999 when writers, Matthew Frank and Dean Bryant, were studying at WAAPA. It premiered in 2000, won a Green Room Award (Best Original Score) and scored an Off-Broadway season.

Prodigal is a chamber musical with five performers and a single piano. The show has merit but it feels and sounds like an early work by artists who promised a bright future in the musical theatre. This early show is like their baby pictures, to paraphrase Stephen Sondheim.

Frank’s score provides singable, traditional show tunes and pop songs, although none are showstoppers. Bryant’s book, based on the biblical story of the prodigal son, is credible and has poignant elements but it is predictable and the dialogue is often trite. However, the show is enjoyable and the crowd is touched by the tale.

Prodigal is a “coming out” story about Luke (Edward Grey), an 18-year old living in coastal Eden, where he is the perfect son, school captain and about to work in dad’s fishing business with his tearaway brother, Kane (Adam Rennie). He disappoints mum (Anne Wood) and dad (Peter Hardy) when he runs off to university in Sydney. His life turns to ash after too much partying and drug taking and he returns home like the biblical prodigal.

The small cast is talented. Grey’s clear tones and passionate performance bring Luke to life. Wood brings humour and a powerful and emotional performance to Luke’s loving mum, Celia. Hardy gruff voice and blokey demeanour suit dad’s country quality. Christina O’Neill plays a perky Maddy, Luke’s wacky housemate and Rennie doubles as Luke’s brother and boyfriend, Zach.

Prodigal is accompanied by a single piano played by local legend, Mark Jones. Although Jones’ playing is rich and skilful, we crave a few more instruments and complexity. With the simplicity of the staging, static direction (Dean Bryant) and sparse design (Joanna Butler) the show feels thin.

Perhaps we shouldn’t tamper with our baby pictures. Maybe we should let Prodigal remain an early work and look to the future works of Bryant and Frank for the jewels.

By Kate Herbert

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